UMMS Bills Advance; More Bad News Is Coming, Leaders Agree

Sen. Jill P. Carter (D-Baltimore City) on the Senate floor earlier this year. File photo

The Maryland legislature continues to put the finishing touches on a measure that would restore public confidence in the University of Maryland Medical System by instituting new disclosure requirements for board members, cracking down on board conflicts of interest and restocking the board with new members.

The state Senate voted unanimously Thursday to adopt its version of the bill, with Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) praising Sen. Jill P. Carter (D-Baltimore). It was Carter who introduced legislation early in the session to tackle “self-dealing” by UMMS board members.

That bill prompted a Baltimore Sun investigation that ultimately led Mayor Catherine E. Pugh, a longtime UMMS board member, to take an “indefinite leave of absence” from her post following allegations the system purchased more than 100,000 copies of her self-published children’s book, netting her more than half a million dollars, money she did not disclose.

The system’s long-serving CEO was forced to take a leave of absence after the “Healthy Holly” scandal broke. And several UMMS board members — including Pugh — either quit the panel or took a leave of absence.

It was Carter “who started this ball rolling,” Miller said Thursday.

Both lawmakers predicted that other boards are going to be found to have similarly troubling relationships.

“I don’t think this is an outlier,” Carter said on the Senate floor just before the vote. “I think that we need to take a look at other entities, both in the private sector, the non-profit sector and even government and ensure that we have transparency throughout our system in Maryland.”

Miller, the long-serving presiding officer, agreed.

“I’m sure as we reach out and go further, this reaches down into the hospitals that are under their control, there is also self-dealing on these boards,” he said. “There’s no question about it.”

“It gives an opportunity for the boards — in fact, all non-profit boards — to look at themselves and understand that there is somebody looking over them to make certain that there is not self-dealing. It’s very, very important that the public understands that,” Miller said.

Carter, who once worked in the Pugh administration, said the city — its mayor now sidelined with both medical and potentially serious legal issues — is now going through “a very, very difficult and unusual time.”

“Many of us are shocked that … the things that have ensued from [the day Carter’s bill was introduced] to this day we never could have fathomed, we never could have envisioned, but I’m proud that this body took this issue very seriously,” Carter said.

City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young (D) is now ex officio mayor of Baltimore. [See related story.]

The UMMS reform bill the House approved was sponsored by Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel), himself a longtime board member.

Both measures replace the board with new members over a period of months.

There are also financial disclosure requirements, prohibitions on no-bid contracts, a ban on board members having financial relationships with the institution and other safeguards in one or both bills.

Given the high-profile nature of the scandal that has engulfed the medical system, a meeting of the minds is considered a virtual certainty. The legislature adjourns Monday at midnight.

There was a moment of levity on the Senate floor Thursday when Miller recognized Carter to speak.

“We’re going to recognize the chairman of the bill …,” Miller said, inserting “chairman” where he meant to say “sponsor.”

“Thank you, Mr. President. I’m not a chairman yet,” said Carter, a first-term senator, to laughter.

“Wow, wow, wow,” said Miller, good naturedly.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa,” he added, as even louder laughs rolled through the chamber.

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